The following information is presented for educational purposes only.
Medical Marijuana Inc. provides this information to provide an understanding
of the potential applications of cannabidiol. Links to third party websites
do not constitute an endorsement of these organizations by Medical Marijuana
Inc. and none should be inferred.
Leukemia is cancer of bone marrow blood cells. Studies have shown marijuana
stimulates leukemia cell death, assists in the management of symptoms
associated with cancer and traditional cancer treatments, and lowers the
risk of complications following bone marrow transplants.
Overview of Leukemia
Leukemia is cancer of the body’s blood cells that form within the bone
marrow and the lymphatic system. As cancerous blood cells form, they
eventually crowd out healthy blood cells. According to the National Cancer
Institute, while leukemia primarily affects adults over the age of 55, it is
also the most common cancer in children under 15.
There are many types of leukemia. The most common form of leukemia involves
white blood cells, which are essential for the body to effectively fight off
infections. In leukemia, the bone marrow produces abnormal white blood cells
that don’t function properly, which in turn weakens the immune system.
Although not as common, red blood cells, which are responsible for carrying
oxygen throughout the body, and platelets, which are cells that clot the
blood, can also become cancer.
The cause of leukemia remains unknown, but it develops when blood cells
acquire mutations or abnormalities in their DNA. These abnormalities cause
them to grow and divide more rapidly.
Leukemia is classified in two ways; chronic or acute and lymphocytic or
myelogenous. Chronic leukemia grows slowly, progressing gradually over time,
and involves mature blood cells. Acute leukemia grows fast, progressing very
quickly, and involves immature blood cells. Lymphocytic leukemia affects
lymphoid cells, while myelogenous leukemia affects myeloid cells.
Symptoms associated with leukemia can vary depending on type, but they
commonly include fatigue and weakness, frequent infections, weight loss,
fever or chills, easy bleeding or bruising, swollen lymph nodes, regular
nosebleeds, tiny red spots on the skin, excessive sweating, and bone pain or
Treatment of leukemia typically involves chemotherapy. Biological therapy,
targeted therapy and radiation therapy are also used to combat leukemia. A
stem cell transplant, which replaces diseased bone marrow with healthy bone
marrow, may also be required.
Findings: Effects of Cannabis on Leukemia
Evidence suggests that cannabis shows potential as a viable treatment option
for leukemia. One of the major cannabinoids found in cannabis,
tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), has been shown to induce apoptosis, or death, of
leukemia cells (Powles, et al., 2005) (Murison, et al., 1987) (Scott, Shah,
Dalgleish & Liu, 2013). Another major cannabinoid, cannabidiol (CBD), has
also been shown to significantly decrease tumor burden and increase the
death of cancerous leukemia cells (Gallily, et al., 2003) (McKallip, et al.,
2006) (Scott, Shah, Dalgleish & Liu, 2013). Evidence has shown that a
greater dose of cannabis is associated with a greater apoptosis response (Gallily,
et al., 2003). One study found that combining THC treatment with additional
established cytotoxic agents could further enhance leukemia cancer cell
death (Liu, et al., 2008). These findings have caused researchers to
conclude that cannabis “may be a novel and highly selective treatment for
leukemia” (McKallip, et al., 2006).
One case study following a 14-year-old patient with an aggressive form of
acute lymphoblastic leukemia observed improvements with oral cannabis
treatment. The patient had previously undergone a bone marrow transplant and
aggressive chemotherapy and radiation therapies, all of which has proven
ineffective and had caused her to become ill and severely underweight. While
she struggled with nausea, oral cannabis showed to provide anticancer
effects, causing a drop in leukemic blast cell count, and the patient
appeared to be gradually improving before she developed peritonitis and
passed away due to her weakened immune system. Researchers had observed
prior to her passing, however, that the greater the daily dosage of
cannabis, the greater the response (Singh & Bali, 2013).
Cannabis has also been found to help cancer patients manage the nausea,
vomiting and pain associated with traditional cancer treatments and to
stimulate appetite (Guzman, 2003).
In addition, CBD has been shown to help prevent complications that can occur
after a leukemia patient receives a stem cell or bone marrow transplant.
Researchers discovered that leukemia patients that had undergone a
transplant while being treated with CBD had a significantly lower risk of
acquiring graft-versus-host disease (GVHD), a complication after a
transplant where the transplanted cells attack the recipient’s body
(Yeshurun, et al., 2015).
States That Have Approved Medical Marijuana for Leukemia
Nearly all states with comprehensive medical marijuana programs have
approved medical marijuana for the treatment of cancer, including leukemia.
These states include: Alaska, Arkansas, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Louisiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Nevada, New
Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode
Island, Vermont and Washington.
D.C., any condition can be approved for medical marijuana as long as a
DC-licensed physician recommends the treatment.
While the state of Maryland hasn’t
approved medical marijuana specifically for leukemia, it may allow patients
whose condition is causing “chronic pain” to use cannabis.
Recent Studies on Cannabis’ Effect on Leukemia
Administering oral CBD to a fourteen year-old acute lymphoblastic
leukemia patient encouraged leukemia cell death.
Cannabis extract treatment for terminal acute lymphoblastic leukemia
with a Philadelphia chromosome mutation.
Gallily, R., Even-Chena, T., Katzavian, G., Lehmann, D., Dagan, A., and
Mechoulam, R. (2003, October). Gamma-irradiation enhances apoptosis induced
by cannabidiol, a non-psychotropic cannabinoid, in cultured HL-60
myeloblastic leukemia cells. Leukemia
Guzman, M. (2003, October). Cannabinoids: potential anticancer agents. Nature
Leukemia. (2015, March 26). Mayo
Retrieved from http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/leukemia/basics/definition/con-20024914.
Leukemia-for patients. (n.d.). National
Retrieved from http://www.cancer.gov/types/leukemia.
Liu, W.M., Scott, K.A., Shamash, J., Joel, S., and Powles, T.B. (2008,
September). Enhancing the in vitro cytotoxic activity of
Delta9-tetrahydrocannabinol in leukemic cells through a combinatorial
McKallip, R.J., Jia, W., Schlomer, J., Warren, J.W., Nagarkatti, P.s., and
Nagarkatti, M. (2006, September). Cannabidiol-induced apoptosis in human
leukemia cells: A novel role of cannabidiol in the regulation of p22phox and
Nox4 expression. Molecular
Murison, G., Chubb, C.B., Maeda, S., Gemmell, M.A., and Huberman, E. (1987,
August). Cannabinoids induce incomplete maturation of cultured human
leukemia cells. Proceedings
of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America,
Powles, T., te Poele, R., Shamash, J., Chaplin, T., Propper, D., Joel, S.,
Oliver, T., and Liu, W.M. (2005, February 1). Cannabis-induced cytotoxicity
in leukemia cell lines: the role of the cannabinoid receptors and the MAPK
Scott, K.A., Shah, S., Dalgleish, A.G., and Liu, W.M. (2013, October).
Enhancing the activity of cannabidiol and other cannabinoids in vitro
through modifications to drug combinations and treatment schedules. Anticancer
Singh, Y., and Bali, C. (2013, November 28). Cannabis extract treatment for
terminal acute lymphoblastic leukemia with a Philadelphia chromosome
Reports in Oncology,
Yeshurun, M., Shpilberg, O., Herscovici, C., Shargian, L., Dreyer, J., Peck,
A., Israeli, M., Levy-Assaraf, M., Gruenewald, T., Mechoulam, R., Raanani,
P., and Ram, R. (2015, October). Cannabidiol for the Prevention of
Graft-versus-Host-Disease after Allogeneic Hematopoietic Cell
Transplantation: Results of a Phase II Study. Biology
of Blood and Marrow Transplantation,
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